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Blach student’s summer research project addresses pandemic’s impact on teenagers

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Courtesy of Myesha Phukan
Los Altos resident Myesha Phukan wrote a research paper on how the pandemic has affected teens.

As local schools shifted to remote learning and nonessential businesses shuttered in mid-March, Myesha Phukan realized that the summer research project she had in mind would need to take a new direction.

The Los Altos resident modified her original idea – media content consumption and work habits – to match the current situation, focusing on how the pandemic has impacted the lives of teenagers.

“It was originally supposed to be a summer project in May,” the rising eighth-grader at Blach Intermediate School said in a phone interview. “And then in early March, when we saw how COVID-19 was spreading across the world and the impact it was starting to have in our lives, we decided to pivot our study to focus on COVID-19 and how it was affecting our
lives.”

Myesha is an intern at the Takshashila Institution, a public policy think tank run by her father’s college friend in India. Myesha said she met two other high school students – one in Texas and the other in Bangalore, India – through the internship program. Since April, the trio has collaborated on the project, meeting every other day via Zoom to discuss their research findings.

“The time zones were different,” Myesha said, “so we decided to split our questions into groups, so each person got two groups and those were our specific areas for studying research. At the end, we all combined them together.”

Research findings

Living in different parts of the world, Myesha’s team investigated how the pandemic affected teenagers in their home states. The trio surveyed more than 700 people – with more than half of their respondents being teenagers – with questions covering financial and physical impact, media content consumption and learning, Myesha wrote in her research paper.

Titled “California Teenagers Remain Resilient Despite Effects of Pandemic on Learning and Social Lives,” the article compares the amount of screen time, financial impact on families and mask use among teens in California and India.

Myesha found that the number of teenagers who spend more than five hours online increased from 34% to 95%.

“(The numbers) did surprise me,” she said. “I thought that I knew that the number of hours spent on the screen would increase since we’re staying at home all day, but it was surprising to know how much that number had increased.”

In addition, Myesha’s data revealed that approximately 40% of teens in California knew families who suffered financially, compared to half of teens in India dealing with a similar financial impact.

“One other surprising finding was the California teens were much less likely to wear a mask when outside (26%) compared to teenagers in countries like India (69%),” Myesha wrote in her research. “This could be potentially due to students in India used to wearing masks given high pollution levels there.”

What surprised Myesha most, she said, was the number of teenagers in the U.S. and India who remain optimistic for the future despite the negative impacts of the virus.

“During these times, it is even more important to look on the bright side,” she wrote in wrapping up in her findings. “A majority of teenagers across the United States and India remain optimistic about the world changing for the better after the pandemic. That gave us hope that we will come out even stronger from these challenging times.”

Inspiration at school

Myesha said her research was initially inspired by her love for writing.

“My favorite subject at school is English,” she said. “What I most like about school is how you learn new things every day and meet new people. I would say that I really like writing a lot, so this project was kind of a perfect way to increase my writing (skills), especially since we were doing online school and it wasn’t hands-on anymore.”

In seventh grade, Myesha took creative writing as one of her electives at Blach. This coming school year, she plans on taking journalism because the research project inspired her to further explore expository writing and journalism.

“I really like this study because it caused me to be more aware of what was going on in our world during this time,”
Myesha said, “whereas if I hadn’t done the study, I probably would not have known all of these things and how interesting they are.”

To read Myesha’s research paper, visit tinyurl.com/y9c899uj. To read her team’s full report, visit tinyurl.com/ydydzwvk.

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